Monday, February 8, 2010

Trevor and the Acme Little Giant Killer

So Nicole finally managed to work Trevor’s signature weapon into some art in time for it to figure in the trailer—not once, but twice! And I suddenly realized I haven’t yet mentioned the weapon in question.

Trevor has a real knack for projectiles. He puts Cobalt to flight early in the book with some carefully aimed chunks of cinderblock, he’s lethal with shuriken, and he has a meaningful talk with John Lawrence about the fact that he actually can kill someone—easily—with a rock. And so his signature weapon is a sling.

Trevor’s sling came from a couple of places. The story of David and Goliath was a factor, of course—somewhere in my home I still have my older brother’s Acme Little Giant Killer slingshot left over from a childhood Halloween. Trevor, with his slight build, short stature, and lack of superpowers, makes a good David against the Goliaths of the world. I will also admit to being a massive fan of Timothy Zahn’s excellent Blackcollar novels, where his team of interstellar commandos make a point of collecting and using weapons that can bypass conventional scans. A slingshot (they seem to use the wooden kind) does not set off metal detectors, and you can find your ammunition pretty much anywhere. Trevor’s background as a sidekick also dovetailed with the idea of him as a kid hero, gleefully shooting pebbles at villains. But I wanted something even more basic.

Sometime in my high school years, the History Channel put together a series called Arms and Armor about various basic kinds of weapon. About the only one I remember was the segment on slings, which made excellent use of news footage of Palestinian teenagers slinging rocks at Israeli soldiers. The symbolism was rich, of course, but the documentary pointed out two other points about the simple cloth sling that David used. First, it’s the weapon of people with time on their hands—shepherds chucking rocks for hours because they’re bored, building their skills in case a predator prowls by. I could see Trevor chucking pebbles across rooftops on quiet patrol nights. And unlike the wooden model, the cloth sling is collapsible, and can be made out of just about anything. The first sling Trevor uses in Masks is made from garbage—the line from a twisted plastic grocery bag, the cradle from a scrap of rag. His ammunition of choice is broken cinderblock—common rubble out here from earthquakes, car accidents, and simple wear and tear on the landscape. Rae has access to the abandoned tools of a dozen dead heroes, but Trevor has only his brain and his hands. And for him, that’s enough.

I’ve mentioned several times that I love scrappy heroes who make do with what they’ve got, and it may be this side of Trevor’s character that I like best. He never gives up on doing the right thing, even when the only tools he has are the contents of a dumpster. I honestly don’t think he’s ever considered the possibility that he shouldn’t be running around in a mask without any powers. It has never crossed his mind. He sees a giant on the hilltop, and he goes looking for five smooth stones … and he’s only going to need one.

But that very confidence renders him terribly vulnerable. At the climax of Masks, Trevor must face an enemy who can end his existence with a thought. He has only his sling and his mind against someone who thinks faster than he does and vaporizes flying rocks. So while he goes confidently into battle with the weapons of a shepherd king, the forces arrayed against him are far better armed. He spends all of Masks building the confidence to enter that fight, and he forgets that a very similar choice led him to make the greatest mistake of his life, one that still gives him nightmares. But being a hero means trying even if you’re going to lose, and Trevor will be a hero if it means he dies trying.

All of which reminds me of the other piece of Trevor’s sling. I recently found in one of my old notebooks a poem I copied down in high school, around the time I created Trevor—his courage and his tragedy both. I’m not much for poetry, and I’m particularly not much for Emily Dickinson, but maybe this piece was a little bit prophetic:

I took my Power in my Hand --
And went against the World --
'Twas not so much as David -- had --
But I -- was twice as bold --

I aimed my Pebble -- but Myself
Was all the one that fell --
Was it Goliath -- was too large --
Or was myself -- too small?

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